What Fields Are (& a Public Talk Saturday)

To the five articles in my very-slightly-mathy series on Fields and Particles [sorry, the non-mathy series will be probably appear a couple of months from now] I have now added a 6th:

  1. Ball on a Spring (Classical)
  2. Ball on a Spring (Quantum)
  3. Waves (Classical Form)
  4. Waves (Classical Equation of Motion)
  5. Waves (Quantum)
  6. Fields (new!)
  7. Particles (coming next week)

Meanwhile, I remind you that I’m giving a talk on-line, about The Quest for the Higgs Particle. No math required there. (Saturday, September 8th, 1 p.m. New York time/10 a.m. Pacific, through the MICA Popular Talks series, held online at the Large Auditorium on StellaNova, Second Life.  You’ll need a Second Life viewer to watch it live.  Should you miss it, both the audio and the slides will be posted later for you to look at.)  And also, if you missed my colleague Sean Carroll being interviewed about his new book and the science behind the Higgs Discovery, an opportunity I recommended to you yesterday, all is not lost; you can hear it here.

7 responses to “What Fields Are (& a Public Talk Saturday)

  1. Are you related to the classical scholar and S’sRC trustee Robert B. Strassler? He could produce a sumptuous edition of your writings: “The Landmark Matt”. It would be a thing for all time.

  2. What does “very-slightly-mathy” mean?

    • well — read the articles and you’ll find out! (What it really means it that you need some pre-university math including understanding of sines and cosines as functions, and if you really want to follow the details, a little comfort with the easiest part of calculus — taking derivatives of sines and cosines. And it will help if you have seen the ball-on-a-spring and waves in a beginning physics class — but it might not be necessary if you’re not easily daunted.)

  3. Early on in your Virtually Speaking Science talk you say that “what we call particles are not really particles but ripples…” and “in physics today, all of the things we call particles are actually little riplles in corresponding fields. They are like little waves…” But later on, you use the word particle to mean spherical objects (not ripples). How do you explain this?

    • Well, it is important to remember always that humans are creatures made from flesh and blood, but still we sometimes represent them as stick figures because it is easier. Representing elementary particles as little balls is somewhat inaccurate, but a lot easier to draw and interpret than a depiction of them as little ripples, once you’re looking at many of them from far away. It’s a short-hand, like a stick figure; the truth is more elaborate.

      Protons, however, are something more complicated; because they are made out of so many quarks and antiquarks and gluons, they are a lot more like little balls than the quarks and gluons themselves. And yet they’re still ripples of a sort. So they’re a lot harder to draw — and depicting them as balls is more accurate.

      In fact this is also true even of atoms; atoms are ripples, but they have an internal structure which makes them also like balls. This is easy to state in math formulas, but very hard to draw. It’s as though the ripple is made from multiple colors, and the different colored parts of the ripple can move apart from one another by a certain distance, which may be much smaller than the length of the ripple. [Yes, that's confusing - easy to say in math, but not freshman math.]

  4. Pingback: R.I.P. Particle physics | Densytics

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